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Does Basic Information about the NT *Matter*? My Pop Quiz

Last week I posted the pop quiz that I gave my first-year seminar, “Jesus in Scholarship and Film,” on the opening day of the term.  There are several reasons I give a quiz, even before the students have read, heard lectures, or discussed anything about the New Testament.  For one thing, it’s a fun activity and we can have some laughs – it’s not graded and we go over the answers after they take it.  For another thing, it’s important for me to know how much they know about the New Testament and early Christianity before we start the course.  It’s also important for them to know how much they know – especially the students who were raised in church and assume they already know a lot.  Some of them do; but not most.  And sometimes they are chagrined when they find out.  (If I had a nickel for every time a student has said to me, “Why haven’t I heard this before?” I could buy a condo on the Champs-Élysées.)

Even more important, in some ways, I use the quiz – or at least the answers to it – to begin teaching some of the basics beginning students need to know.  Not all the questions are particularly “important” to that end, but they all do matter in one way or another.  I never really have time to explain the full importance of each one, but I usually can say a couple of things before the class ends.

Here I’d like to give not only the answers but why the question might matter.  This will take a few posts.  This one can deal with the first two questions.

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Two More Answers from My Pop Quiz
What Is the Unforgivable Sin? Readers’ Mailbag.



  1. Avatar
    tskorick  August 30, 2020

    That was an extremely fun quiz. This might sound strange to you, but from my perspective: how often do I get to complete a quiz that is to be graded (after a fashion) by you? That was pretty cool.

  2. Avatar
    AstaKask  August 30, 2020

    Regarding Gospels outside the New Testament – has all the disciples got their own gospels or are there a few high-profile people (like Peter) who have many gospels? I know Peter has two Apocalypses.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2020

      No, there aren’t surviving Gospels for all of the twelve; John has a couple at least…

  3. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  August 30, 2020

    Is it possible to determine the first or primary language of the author of Revelations by examining the usage of Greek? For instance, if my first language is English and I am struggling to write in German, I might use word orders (nouns, adjectives, etc) and sentence structures familiar to me from English. Reading my German, and noting the English sentence structures, one might conclude that I was more familiar with English.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2020

      Yes, the phrasing in places suggests a semitic language, and therefore probably Aramaic. And if you want to read German as an English speaking person, teh best texts are those written by English speaking persons (in German)!

    • JulieGraff
      JulieGraff  September 1, 2020

      RICHWEN90, I would say keep digging in that direction as I believe it doesn’t just show the original language of the author but also how deep the author was aware of the inside, the secrets and oral tradition of the original hebrew texts… (instead of being illiterates, as sometime mentionned!)

      For example Matthew’s mentionning of the 14 generations… 14 is a highly significant number as it is the gematria of the hand (Yad) … and there are alot of underground, inside meanings for the hand in the Torah (like As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning … or: when Moses was tired of keeping his hands up Aaron would help him!) … his usage of the number 14 is not just a coincidence, this is showing someone who knew the inside teachings of the Torah!

      When you study the original scriptures with a good Torah teacher a whole new world appears in the christian texts! Beware though, it may rock your original beliefs!

  4. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  August 30, 2020

    Regarding the second part (Greek language), one of my complaints about Mel Gibson’s film The Passion was the absence of Greek. Mel had Jesus and Pilate conversing in Latin when in reality they would either have used interpreters or spoken in Greek. The chances of Jesus knowing Latin would have been zilch. In fact Romans had long been having to translate into Greek all imperial decrees destined for promulgation in the eastern empire.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2020

      Yeah, I’ve always thought that part was a scream. And with Mel claiming that he was just showing what really happened “as it really was.” Yikes….

  5. Avatar
    Todd  August 30, 2020

    This is fun. Let’s do more.

  6. Avatar
    longdistancerunner  August 30, 2020

    Darn it.. I aimed for 5 stars and accidentally hit 4.. that was me

  7. Avatar
    nichael  August 31, 2020

    > And what is 27? Three to the third power. 3x3x3! How easy can it get?

    Likewise, “How many books in whole Bible?”

    69. Or [3+3][3+3+3]. (Or if you prefer [3+3][3*3].)

    (Might be getting a bit trinitarian here…. 😉 )

  8. Avatar
    nichael  August 31, 2020

    I especially like the notion of helping to make clear to the student how much they don’t know. Or perhaps more importantly what they “know” but which they’ve actually got wrong.

    (As I get older I find that when I read the Bible I’m increasingly shocked not by what’s there, but by what’s *NOT* there. How much I’ve been sure was there, because I’ve always been told it was there, but which just ain’t so.)

    In any case, have you ever considered writing a (shortish) book on the model of this post? That is, an intro that presents the Pop Quiz. Then a set of subsequent chapters that, as above, uses each of the questions as a starting point for a brief essay on associated topics.

    (Just a thought. For all your vast spare time. 😉 )

  9. Avatar
    Poohbear  August 31, 2020

    Some focus upon differences rather than commonalities of the Gospel writers. Then reverse tactic to show the similarities of the bible with other faiths, ignoring the differences. Perhaps they are not even conscious of what they are doing.

    Quote – ” We have four Gospels in the NT. Let each author say what he has to say, and not assume he’s saying the same thing as some other author living in a different time, place, and set of circumstances.”

    It was the same with the Old Testament writers. Isaiah, for instance, gives us the lowly man of sorrows. David gives us more of the suffering Messiah, perhaps due to his own suffering (David was a typological symbol of the rejected and reigning king.)
    But both David and Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as being the healer, miracle worker, and rejected preacher, but one who rose from the grave in triumph. But they agreed upon the core aspects of Christ, just as the various authors in the New Testament did.

  10. Avatar
    holdco  August 31, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman:

    Dovetailing with your comment about Greek being the lingua franca of the day, what do you think of Richard Bauckham’s argument (also advanced in your Unbelievable! debate with him) that the Gospel of Mark was probably written by Mark, because he writes in “very simple Greek, very skillfully,” and that given what we know about him (wealthy family, vineyards, etc.), it’s plausible that he was indeed the writer?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 2, 2020

      Why would someone who wrote simple skillful Greek necessarily be named Mark? That doesn’t sound like evidence to me. Plus why would anyone think that the author came from a wealthy family that owned vineyards???

      • Avatar
        holdco  September 3, 2020

        Dr. Ehrman:
        I think it’s because Mark is equated with John Mark in Acts, who came from a wealthy family in Jerusalem (because of the size of his family home, perhaps), and so he would’ve had a Greek education, according to Bauckham. I guess you feel this evidence is flimsy?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 4, 2020

          Yes that’s why, and yes it is very flimsy indeed (because of the many problems with Acts about such things)

  11. Avatar
    markdeckard  August 31, 2020

    I was just rewatching your debate with Wallace on the trustworthiness of the New Testament and have been burning to ask a question I have never heard asked. This has to do with the theological ramifications of the massive time gaps in the manuscript chains. Multiplying this problem is the shrinking size of the fragments within these huge gaps as go back farther in time. So with all that said, is there significant merit in asking what is the earliest evidence of say, Matthew 25:46? It’s one thing to have evidence of a chapter in an early year, but that does not guarantee that we have good reason to imagine what we want having been in the parts of the fragment that are rotted away.

    I have felt for some time that there is a bit of logical slight of hand employed by conservatives and inerrantists by saying…”We have a fragment of Matthew from year xxx so now our modern text is verified” What most people don’t think about is that fragment may contain only 1% of the words on that book leaving us building an entire dinosaur from a single broken thigh bone.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 2, 2020

      Yeah, no only that but if the earliest little scrap is, say, 100-150 years after the original, what was happening during the copying practices during that period (so what was teh copy that this copy copied like?). No way to know. So where is the assurance?

  12. Avatar
    fishician  August 31, 2020

    1. Another trick using 3’s:3 and 3×3 is 39, the number of books in OT, and then 3 x 9 = 27, the number of books in NT. 2. Language question: in Mark 10 is the story of the rich young man, and Jesus says to him, “Go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (NASB) He says sell “all” you possess, but then simply says “give to the poor;” doesn’t necessarily say give “all” to the poor, which is how I have typically heard it taught. Jesus could be saying, “Get rid of your possessions, and instead be generous to the poor” rather than telling him to become poor himself by giving away all his money. That makes more sense to me: instead of using your money to buy so many possessions, be generous to the poor. Does the Greek make it clear if Jesus means for him to give away “all” or does it leave it open to interpretation?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 2, 2020

      He has to sell everything; if he doesn’t give it to the poor, I guess he has run out of instructions. But it almost certainly means he doesn’t keep anything for himself. That’s why he won’t do it!

  13. Avatar
    KingJohn  September 5, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,
    In your view, who are the top German New Testament scholars in the present time?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 6, 2020

      There are lots of superior ones. Too many to mention, since I would surely leave off some names and that would be embarassing.

  14. Avatar
    billsturm  September 17, 2020

    Well, Bart,
    As a conservative Baptist in North Carolina, I am astounded at the Biblical illiteracy by those who claim to believe in the inerrant Scripture. Having read your into to “interrupting Jesus,” I don’t need to tell you what that culture looks like. Suffice it to say that I am not surprised that their offspring are showing up in your classroom.

    Thankfully, we are seeing a change in our congregation.

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